How could this have happened? The economy has been getting better. Barack Obama managed to bring about things like the Affordable Care Act, which help Americans economically. But enough voters in enough places apparently didn’t care, and Donald Trump is now the president-elect.
Why did so many Americans vote against their own interests?
Actually, says New York Times business columnist Eduardo Porter, they didn’t.
“Yes,” Porter said in a thought-provoking assessment
in mid-December, “the economy has added millions of jobs since Mr. Obama took office. Even manufacturing employment has recovered some of its losses.”
But, Porter wrote, Trump’s lower-income, less-educated voters “had a solid economic rationale for voting against the status quo: Nearly all the gains from the economic recovery have passed them by.”
While the country now has almost 9 million more jobs than it had in 2007, right before the recession hit, Porter wrote, that growth hasn’t benefited everybody:
“Despite accounting for less than 15 percent of the labor force, Hispanics got more than half of the net additional jobs. Blacks and Asians also gained millions more jobs than they lost. But whites, who account for 78 percent of the labor force, lost more than 700,000 net jobs over the nine years.”
And the picture is even worse “among workers in their prime,” Porter wrote. “Whites ages 25 to 54 lost about 6.5 million jobs more than they gained over the period.” Jobs grew by about 3 million among Hispanics in the same age group, about 1.5 million among Asians, and about 1 million among blacks.
The country’s racial division also shows up. The growth in jobs and family income were heaviest in metropolitan areas, which have higher percentages of non-white residents. Porter cites a Brookings study showing that in non-metropolitan areas, about 78 percent of residents are non-Hispanic whites; in small cities, the figure is about 71 percent.
Those areas haven’t had the job creation that the denser metropolitan areas of the country did. And that’s where Donald Trump got many of his votes. His supporters there weren’t voting against their own interests.
The economy in the left-behind areas wasn’t the only issue that helped Trump. The antagonism against East Coast-West Coast elites was real, because the elitism itself was often real. Hillary Clinton’s made her “basket of deplorables” comment not at a rally full of unemployed and under-employed Middle Americans; she made it at a fundraiser in New York City.
Certainly there was plenty of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic, anti-black sentiment among Trump supporters, and Trump stoked it. But those sentiments are easier to overcome when everybody is benefiting from the economy, and when people who want jobs can get them.
For too many people, in too many places in America, there is little prospect of ever having a good job. That’s true in the nation’s predominantly black and Hispanic metropolitan neighborhoods, and it’s true in the predominantly white small towns and rural areas of the country.
And, as the headline on Eduardo Porter’s article in the Times put it, as he looked for support among white Americans, Donald Trump “found votes where the jobs weren’t.”
In parts of what became Donald Trump’s country on November 8, coal miners, farmers, factory workers in small towns, and the people who worked in the stores, restaurants, schools, churches, car dealerships, repair shops, and professional offices that served them: all of these people had formed strong communities, raised families, and done well. But that was years ago. The jobs disappeared. Retail centers hollowed out. And there’s been no sign that things will get better.
While Donald Trump apparently offered people hope, he won’t bring back the kinds of jobs he has promised. Jobs are desperately needed, though – jobs that pay decent wages – and they’re needed in all areas of the country, not just in the communities where the economy is now doing well.